Your Next Desk Lamp: A Plant That Glows?

Can you imagine a natural plant in your office providing sufficient light for you to work by?  Well, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are advancing research that may one day make natural desk lamps a reality.

According to the report, Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor at MIT, is using the science of plant nanobionics to turn plant leaves into a light source. Strano and his team of researchers have been experimenting since 2015 with different compound combinations that can be packaged in nanoparticles and then sprayed on a plant’s leaves. The spray enters the plant through its pores, and stimulates the production of a dim natural light.

The current compound combination consists of luciferase (an enzyme connected with the glow produced by fireflies), another light-emitting compound luciferin, and a third enzyme. Strano and his team have successfully sprayed this mixture on the leaves of spinach, kale and watercress, resulting in the emission of a dim light for a period of about four hours, significantly greater than the 45 minutes of light produced by earlier enzyme combinations.

Strano says that he hopes that, one day, “we’ll be able to engineer a way for you to just spray it on a plant, wait an hour, and then that plant will be light-emitting for the duration of its lifetime.” (So no need to replace lightbulbs either!)

Read the complete text of the Journal article on MIT’s research on glowing plants.

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